Sobering news: in August, New Zealand’s road fatality toll stands at 214 people killed on our roads so far this year, including 3 people who were just out riding their bikes, 15 pedestrians,10 children; 50 in Auckland alone… any way you slice the data, it’s still too many. And that’s not accounting for life-changing injury.

What is an acceptable fatality rate, in a country our size? Think of a number – and then watch this.

Vision Zero, an approach that began in Sweden and is being adopted around the world, flips the script. Instead of assuming a certain number of road deaths are inevitable, we could insist on none.

We could refuse to accept the ‘road toll’ as some sort of fixed tax – or indeed, ‘toll’ – in exchange for our transport system to function.

We could begin with the expectation that everyone who sets out on a journey, no matter how they travel, will come home alive.

We could consider it a gift to drivers that the streets they travel will not let them make irreversible mistakes.

Children at the Otaki Children’s Health Camp, playing dead in a street, to simulate 32 child deaths on New Zealand Roads, Evening Post, 1957. (Ref: EP/1957/3800-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand)

Vision Zero aims to change how governments, organisations, and private individuals approach road safety. One of its core messages is that there are no ‘accidents’: no road crash happens due to random chance alone. Our transport system can and should be designed to be safe even – or especially – when people make mistakes.

Infographic via the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Change is possible. And importantly for the sceptics, it’s possible without abandoning the car and the truck as forms of transport – as long as we shift our thinking:

Safety has to come before convenience, and design and data have to come before reflexively blaming crashes on reckless road users.

Useful data from the 2014 NZ Cycling Safety Panel report. Injuries (and deaths) of pedestrians and people on bikes rise steeply as vehicle speeds rise from 30kmh.

As one of the fundamental principles of Vision Zero puts it: ‘Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society.’ Safety should be paramount, not one of many inputs to be ‘balanced’ against others. Human life and health should be the bottom line, and street design and safer speeds and other policies should be directed to that end.

It works: Sweden has halved the number of road deaths since introducing Vision Zero:

“We simply do not accept any deaths or injuries on our roads,” says Hans Berg of the national transport agency. Swedes believe – and are now proving – that they can have mobility and safety at the same time.

We think New Zealand can too. That’s why Bike Auckland is joining the call to make Vision Zero the vision for Auckland – and for New Zealand as a whole.

On this, we’re glad to stand alongside Brake, the road safety charity; Cycling Action Network; NZ School Speeds; Waitemata Local Board Deputy Chair Pippa Coom, and Walk Auckland; Transportblog, and other supporters of Vision Zero for New Zealand.

Join the cause

Vision Zero Auckland
Vision Zero for NZ (Facebook group)
NZ School Speeds (Facebook page)

Further reading

The official Vision Zero Initiative website
A 2014 interview with Sweden’s traffic safety strategist
Vision Zero for Auckland‘, Pippa Coom, 15 June 2015
Time for Vision Zero‘, Transportblog, 16 October 2015
The Accident is Not the Major Problem’, Transportblog, 31 May 2016
Call for Vision Zero to be adopted for NZ to bring down road toll‘, Pippa Coom, 16 July 2016
Vision Zero press release from Brake, the road safety charity

For local confirmation that we can and must design safer streets, especially for people on foot and on bikes, look no further than this clip of St Luke’s Rd that’s been lighting up the internet…

Or consider this recent story: ‘Auckland hit and run breaks child’s leg and almost kills four.’

Vision Zero is about protecting everyone, motorists included. See this recent heartbreaking story from Portland, Oregon, on a resurgence of support for Vision Zero principles: ‘I’m a driver. I need this.’

And this news story from just yesterday: ‘Four-vehicle crash outside Bucklands Beach Intermediate in Auckland.‘ By good fortune, in this case the driver escaped with minor injuries and nobody else was hurt or killed. But it needs to be about more than just good fortune. Vision Zero.

Image from NZ Herald story, sourced by the Herald via Facebook.
Cycling safety NZTA
Share this

11 responses to “‘First do no harm’: why it’s time for Vision Zero NZ

  1. Erm, I think you’ve misinterpreted the data. Last year 319 people were killed on our roads. To date this year, we’re only tracking a few higher than the same time as last year.

    1. (Not to say that I don’t fully support the efforts to see Vision Zero adopted here in NZ – nice to see that our cycling deaths have been tracking significantly down in the past couple of years too)

      1. Thanks Glen, not sure how the mistake happened. Taken that bit out of the intro.

  2. I agree it’s good to see cycling stats declining whereas the total of all modes appears to be climbing.
    I believe this would be due to the increase in cycle facilities in cities and confirms the belief that cycle accidents decline in parallel with increasing numbers of cyclists. In the past 2-3 years cyclists have become a more recognised item on the roads.

    There is too much emphasis i believe by organisations such as ACC on injury prevention rather than ACCIDENT PREVENTION which is much more important. A classic case is the new ACC levy based on the age of your vehicle i.e. the number of air bags and electronic gismos your car has when it is the driver who has an accident not the car !!!

  3. I’m convinced that most of our accidents are caused by poor driving and not poor infrastructure. We have bad drivers teaching their children how to drive, foreigners with a dangerous lack of driving skills, unenforced road rules, a lack of Police and miniscule fines should you ever get caught.

    Then their is the aggressive nature of many drivers, particularly towards venerable road users. Lastly, Auckland is full of professional drivers (I’m talking about Auckland bus and taxi drivers mainly) with skills and attitudes below that of the average car driver.

    All of this stops people wanting to try commuting by bike, and I can’t see and increase in kids biking to school unless the cycle paths are well away from roads.

    1. Pretty much all of the research suggests that it is the infrastructure more than the drivers.

      1. It’s both – but crucially, bad, car-centric infrastructure encourages bad driver behaviour, and a sense of entitlement that comes with it (speeding, not giving way etc…)

        Also, infra changes are self-reinforcing/perpetuating, whereas behaviour change, even where successful, needs constant active reinforcement…

      2. Yes infrastructure is pretty drab here too, but it has to be said, Kiwis are a bunch of pigs on the road.

        Just one example, if you turn out of your driveway, and oops, 200m up the street someone is crossing the street. Would you still accelerate even if that means you’d almost drive over that person’s toes? The default answer here is YES. Tooting is optional. Where I’m from, that stuff will get you an F on your driving test.

        Another example: the next time it’s fair weather on Sunday, go observe the pedestrian crossing on Great North Road at Western Springs park.

        (and seriously, how the hell do you manage to overturn a car like that?)

        Finally I don’t understand the behaviour of tradies over here at all. Given their driving style, they would run a decent risk of losing their drivers license, so my guess is there’s a loophole somewhere which leaves them de facto exempt from traffic rules.

  4. NZTA has been doing the Vision Zero thing for the past 5 years, they call it the ‘Safe System’.

    The issue is of course, greater safety comes at the cost of reduced amenity. We have seen NZTA build plenty of off-road cycle ways around the place which are great for eliminating the potential conflict between motorway vehicles and peds/cyclists when the are separated by barriers, however these have poor access due to their segregated nature.

    In order to retain access often the only protection provided is a kerb, which is more physiological protection than physical as they do nothing to stop vehicles traveling any faster than 30km/h and pose a notable risk in themselves. The issue we have is that if you want to eliminate the potential for a pedestrian or cyclist from getting seriously injured by a vehicle is that they need to be physically separated by walls and barriers with all crossing bring grade separated. You would then then to ban and physically prevent any cyclist or pedestrian from every getting on the road in the same way you would need to prevent vehicles getting into the cycle/pedestrian area.

    The only real exception would be in shared spaces with 10km/h speed limits, but then again, the majority of child injuries occur in peoples driveway where speeds are already at about 5km/h.

    1. Sorry Riggles, but that is absolutely untrue, because the “Safe system” does NOT prioritise safety over other considerations.

      The language *is* similar, but when it comes to actually making project decisions, safety is ONE of many considerations they include, and often gets overriden by “how many cars do we get through” and even “is this the way we historically did it? no, well then we wont do it here either”.

      I just had a very harsh example in my day job where safety was kicked to the curb by NZTA and a much worse design approved, despite clear safety issues that I risked my comission to point out – and despite clear non-compliance even with the very car-friendly Austroads guidelines. So please don’t tell me we have Vision Zero in NZ. We are quite a way away.

      1. You have a good point Max, although they do have the ‘Safe System’ it tends to only get used on their new expressways and such things where cars are about the only users. As I mentioned in my 1st post, when it comes to including pedestrians and cyclists it becomes near impossible to have a ‘zero harm’ environment without physically separating vulnerable users from vehicles though the use of barriers and grade separation which has significant restrictions on the accessibility these users can enjoy.

Comments are closed.